The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Town and Country August 4, 2013

What do Susan Lucci, backyard ponds and karaoke bars have in common? They have each been a significant landmark of my weekend thus far. I feel I must admit that while I did actually see Ms. Lucci, at the time I wasn’t aware of exactly whom it was that I had seen in the carriage sitting across from the Queen of Saratoga, philanthropist, filthy rich and unendingly effervescent Marylou Whitney. I saw these fine ladies pass by from about a hundred feet away as I sat on the outside porch of a downtown restaurant. I had finished a long and arduous day in the garden on Friday, and I thought I’d treat myself to a night out. The town was celebrating the 150th anniversary of the track with a parade down Broadway and ice cream social at the Casino. The theme was a “Floral Fete” and the parade showcased bicycles, horse-drawn carriages and old-timey cars festooned in live flowers (the idea being they were decorated as they had been a century and a half ago when the races first began).

While I’d had in my mind the very intention of sitting outside at one particular restaurant, I had no idea the reality I’d be up against. Even as one lone diner I faced an hour’s wait. No matter, I gave the hostess my cell number and went to a bench out in front to read. Wendy, the gal who does my hair (and whom I give credit for my radical new blonde “I’m 50 and I’m worth it” highlights) was on the very bench, waiting, as I learned, to see her young granddaughter in the parade. We’d hardly chatted more than a few minutes when the hostess called my name. I had my front row seat! Had an good meal, an enjoyable margarita, and before long the parade had begun. The street was absolutely packed, and in just a few minutes the magic carriage was gliding past in front of me. All my life I’d heard of her – but never seen her with my own eyes. (My father loves to recount Marylou’s response to him when in the 1970s he’d asked her if she’d consider donating something to his Baroque Music festival: ‘I’m sorry, that’s not my bag, honey!’) So here she was. Marylou. And her junior husband beside her. And, as I learned later, Susan Lucci, her long-time racing buddy was in the carriage too. I snapped a couple of pictures, hoping to take a closer look later on. Marylou, nice. But Susan Lucci? Wow.

After my dinner I followed the throngs to Congress Park in hopes of hearing the Dixieland band. Met the leader just as they were going on to play. Gave him my cd and card. Told him how I missed the old music, and how I’d love to sing. He then told me they “were looking for a singer”. Really? Might I be so lucky? Indeed, this was the feel of my weekend thus far. I was in the stream of life, and so far things were going along nicely. Ran into Charlie, one of the handful of people I know in town (it was he who’d told me I’d just seen Ms. Lucci) and felt an even keener sense of things all happening with an element of magic. I snapped some pictures of young women strolling the park in 1890s costumes, took another swing around the beautiful park, then headed back to my car. The town was packed, and I’d had enough of humanity for the day.

Early Saturday morning I resumed my work outside and after a culmination of a good thirty hours’ of manual labor I had finally finished the hand-tilling of my side yard, I’d finished installing the edging for the garden beds (cutting, painting and drilling the lumber) and I’d completed the pond. This was a lot of work. A lot. Exhausted at the end of the afternoon, I sat surveying my work and realized that while it might have represented a supreme effort on my part, if I’d been a guy it might not have seemed such a big deal. And it occurred to me that maybe that wasn’t quite fair. It’s a lot of work, man or woman. Or was it? I’m not a very big gal, and these days not exceptionally strong, so to someone else this might have been just another day’s labor in the yard. But to me, my accomplishments took on an extra-triumphant feel. A ‘me against the world’ sort of victory. Maybe if I was a guy I wouldn’t be quite so satisfied – or impressed – with my work.  But regardless of the gender question, a job had been done – and it was one I never could have afforded to pay someone else to do for me. So what if the timbers didn’t end up being quite plumb after the soil went in? And even if the pond didn’t quite fill as I’d hoped, even after checking it over and over again with a level – so what? At least it was done, and finally, after five years here, the entry to my home didn’t look trashy anymore. No longer would I hope the view would excuse the mess outside my door. Finally.

Armed with a little remaining value on a gift card for another downtown restaurant, I was able to justify a second night out. I knew that there was a pianist playing at the joint, and I was vaguely aware of a karaoke night at another place down the street. Might not be the Saturday night of days past, but it was something. Turns out I had the most wonderful dinner I’d had in months, and also enjoyed the company of the gentleman who’d been playing piano – as I was the last guest in the dining room. I invited him to share my table, and he told me stories of when he’d played the swingin old joints in Saratoga Lake back in the late ’40s. Thoroughly enjoyed my meal and the company. Finished up and headed out to the karaoke place down the street. Never having sung karaoke out in public I was hesitant at first to jump in, but forced myself to enter the club and find a place at the bar. I perused the song books and thankfully found my hopeful tune. Surprisingly I didn’t have to wait too long before I was called up. I sang. I so enjoyed singing. Thought I sounded good, too. But I learned three important things about karaoke. One, you gotta sing for the demographic of the room. Otherwise, no one gives a shit. Two, you can’t sing too well. (Same effect as for point number one.) And three, while they ask you “what key” you’d like your song in, that doesn’t seem to count either. You get what you get. Good thing I’ve sung plenty of male charts and have routinely had to break up melody lines, going up or down an octave to make it work. I can deal. But still, why ask if you don’t intend on delivering? All that aside, and in spite of my unfamiliarity with the culture of karaoke, I enjoyed myself immensely. And honestly, I wasn’t singing to connect, or to make anyone feel my message. I was singing for purely selfish reasons. Cuz I love to sing, and I don’t get many opportunities to do so these days… Who cares if no one knew “Fooled Around and Fell In Love”? I’m a singer of classic, American popular songs, not a pop or a blues singer. Just to be able to sing something out of my usual purview was pure joy.

At last it was time for Cinderella to go home. The night before I’d pooped out by 9:30, but now it was approaching 2 am. Too much later and I’d screw up the following day (morning is the high-drive productive time for me). The town was still popping, just not with anything that interested me. It’s a young town, and every bar has a cover band playing in an open window or interior courtyard to smartphone-wielding drunks. Young ladies in obscenely high heels and unfathomably long inseams crowd the narrow streets and make me feel a bit older than I had just a few hours earlier. Time to move. On the way to my car I did manage to catch the very end of the only true jazz set in town. They were good players too. A nice surprise and the perfect way to end my night in town.

Sunday I’ll tweak my home improvements with a renewed vigor. I’ll upload the pics from my nights out. And I’ll see if I can’t find Ms. Lucci in a frame or two. Things were so magical this weekend, that I almost expect I’ll see her waving directly at me. Let’s see…

MaryLou2013 019Elihu’s pal Keithie helps scrape the garage

MaryLou2013 021And his uncle Dennis paints the house while I tear up the walkway

MaryLou2013 032The girls follow my work, picking bugs from the fresh-turned soil

MaryLou2013 024Keithie and pal Schuyler take a break on the trampoline with poor Thumbs Up.

Karaoke 2013 1 009Next phase: digging out the pond area

Karaoke 2013 1 024Madeline watches as I lay down the liner

Karaoke 2013 1 021Framing up the garden. Not straight quite yet

Karaoke 2013 1 073I swear they follow me everywhere. Fresh poops always afoot.

Karaoke 2013 1 064Starting to fill up the pond. Guess who can’t wait to try it out. !

Karaoke 2013 1 060Curiouser and curiouser… they are fascinated and watch as the pond fills up

Karaoke 2013 1 036My handiwork just about done

Karaoke 2013 1 086Oh, but I don’t want poop in the fresh, clean water! Can’t leave til I goose-proof the pond. Must remember to keep Maximus inside the run until I can fashion a pond cover.

walkway 2013 002My stonework. (Smaller, river rock to fill in over the dirt at left.)

walkway 2013 011Ah. So happy it’s done! Looks so simple, yet represents so many hours. !

MaryLou2013 071Ok, let’s take a look at those parade pics, snapped from my cozy table for one on Broadway.  Hm, this is a bit disappointing. Reminds me of the time I saw Queen Elizabeth in Toronto. She appeared as the tiniest speck of white, discernible only from the hat on her head. Dear me. Marylou is in white to the right side of the carriage. Let’s see if we can get a closer look…

MaryLou2013 070Oh dear. In spite of my best efforts to enlarge and crop, there’s not much benefit. Let’s see one more…

Marylou in carriageWhy this isn’t Ms. Lucci at all – it’s Charlie Wait and his mother, Jane (she was on the board of my father’s Festival of Baroque Music for many years). A pillar family of Saratoga.

MaryLou2013 094This was a clever ‘float’. The fellows played tennis as the parade moved.

MaryLou2013 107Captures the feel of old Saratoga.

MaryLou2013 099A street musician plays a lap version of a steel drum. She called it a ‘tongue drum’. Elihu might be interested in one of these…

MaryLou2013 104This gal does the most intricate and amazing black and white mandalas.

MaryLou2013 108Well hello, Mr. Bass!

MaryLou2013 116A magician in the park under the big willow tree…

MaryLou2013 113And the carousel, a favorite of all ages.

MaryLou2013 117Old timey characters strolling around the park give the evening charm.

MaryLou2013 138Pretty.

MaryLou2013 139Outside the music tent – that’s my friend Charlie at the far right.

MaryLou2013 136And inside the music tent. My new pal Skip Parsons on right.

MaryLou2013 146The real party’s inside the Casino. I creep around, peeking in the tall, Victorian windows hoping for a glimpse of the host or her actress guest.

MaryLou2013 143Hmmm….

MaryLou2013 144I see a top-hatted waiter. Ah well. I get the elegance and the look of the era. That’s good enough for me.

MaryLou2013 155The Ice Cream Social begins to wind down as modern costumes mingle with old.

MaryLou2013 157Saratoga’s famous Phila Street. Caffe Lena upstairs at right, Hattie’s Chicken Shack below.

Karaoke 2013 1 096And the famous Caroline Street bar scene. Few cars can navigate through the nighttime crowds.

Karaoke 2013 1 095Every bar has a line to get in.

MaryLou2013 182Heading back to my car I see this fun percussion jam in the acoustically perfect drive-up banking tunnel of the Adirondack Trust Company. When Elihu gets back I’ll make sure he takes a spin with these guys.

MaryLou2013 187The ATC clock. As well-known to Saratogians as is the old Marshall Field’s clock in Chicago’s loop.

MaryLou2013 177The Adirondack Trust Company. A bastion of the old-world wealth upon which Saratoga Springs was built. I can remember my father securing a short-term loan for his music festival each year, a deal closed simply by a handshake with president, Charlie Wait. Another time indeed. I feel lucky I knew a bit of the older way of life as a child in this community. Now I often feel more like a spectator than a resident. But I’m doing my best to get out and keep up. For now, however, between Marylou sightings and karaoke bars I feel I’m sated. Done with town life for now.

Post Script: This weekend marks the thirteenth anniversary of the murder of blues guitarist Elvin Bishop’s ex wife and daughter.  (He wrote ‘Fooled Around and Fell In Love’.) I cannot imagine how one continues to go on living in the wake of such a tragedy. Please send Elvin your positive and loving thoughts today….

 

One Response to “Town and Country”

  1. Gene Burnett Says:

    Cool post. Glad you got to do some singing. There is a fourth rule to karaoke, whether you are listening or participating: It helps if you drink. ;~) I’ve only done it once or twice…most recently at a “Be William Shatner” night we had last Fall. Just like regular karaoke but you had to do your songs as The Shat. I had a blast at that one. Good luck with the band thing, that would be very cool!

    I can really relate to your feeling of pride and accomplishment regarding your work on the yard. I don’t have a yard, but I do have a lot of things to keep track of and a seemingly endless stream of projects that need handling, often involving skills and tools that are new to me. What’s important in my sense of accomplishment is that something was a challenge for me and I pulled it off. Maybe someone smarter, more skilled and with more energy could have done it better and faster, but so what? I’m not them and they’re not me. I remember the sense of accomplishment I felt when I could dock this 12 foot tin boat on a pier on an island I was living on in under 5 minutes…even though it took my girlfriend, who grew up doing it, less than one. For a Midwestern boy, just to be piloting a small boat in the San Juan Islands without suffering a cardiac event was accomplishment enough. My worst time on the docking was about 20 minutes. (!) To me your work looks impressive and if I had pulled that off in the time you did, I would feel like a super hero.


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